ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 233

Mira Telem. (Dafna Talmon)
Photos: Dafna Talmon

'At Moshav Livnim, I've had peace, green, flowers and privacy. How can I have the audacity to complain and say I want my home in Mattat? But I want the reality I knew. I want my life back'

Married mother of two who runs a small vacation rental business along the border with Lebanon, evacuated to Moshav Livnim near the Sea of Galilee ● This is her story

Photos: Dafna Talmon

This is part of a series, “Uprooted.” Each column is a curated monologue from an individual among the tens of thousands of internally displaced Israelis during the war with Hamas who were evacuated from the country’s northern border and the Gaza envelope.

Saturday, October 7

On Saturday morning, we were supposed to go to the Diego Giacometti exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. It was the last day of the exhibit, and my partner Yuval, who is a blacksmith and an iron crafter, wanted to see it.

At around 8 a.m., he woke me up and said, “Listen, something awful is happening in the south. I don’t really understand what, but there are sirens in Tel Aviv.”

I asked, “What do you mean you don’t understand?”

We were glued to the news, which we hadn’t done in years. We didn’t know whether we were in Israel or on another planet. We couldn’t understand why the army wasn’t there, we didn’t understand what we were seeing.

At around 11 a.m., I went for a walk with Zuzik, my dog. On the way, I met Mattat’s head of security. We stopped for a moment to talk and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was taking my dog for a walk and he told me to do it fast. I asked him why and he replied, “I’m asking you to make this walk short and quick.” And indeed, there was not another living soul outside.

We had guests in our vacation rental. Toward the afternoon, they let us know they were leaving. In my naivete, I called the woman who works for us and we agreed that she would come and clean the next day. I didn’t understand the scope of the situation, I didn’t realize Hamas was kidnapping people and burning houses. I didn’t realize how many people had been murdered.

At 8 a.m., a message was sent by the emergency response team to the Mattat Official Messages WhatsApp group: “There has been heavy fire on the south since this morning. At this point, we are continuing as usual up north and following the events. We will update if there is any change.”

At 11:52, another message was sent: “Due to the fighting, Magen David Adom is reporting a severe blood shortage. For now, you can donate at Begin School in Nahariya between 13:00 and 20:00.”

The view from Mira Telem’s home in Mattat. (Dafna Talmon)

At 13:40: “Due to a heavy load, there is a shortage of blood donation equipment. Please don’t go.”

At 15:00: “There will be no school on Sunday.”

At 22:46: “The explosion you just heard was our forces’ battlefield illumination device.”

Sunday, October 8

Close to 10 a.m., we got a message from the Ma’ale Yosef regional council:

“We recommend families with family, friends, or somewhere to stay for the next 24 to 48 hours to evacuate to Kabri Junction southward. You must update your security teams with the names of the evacuees and the place you’re going when leaving the town. If you need help with evacuating, please contact the town’s emergency team. The council’s hotline is available 24/7.”

We debated whether we should leave or not, and then the woman who works for us wrote to tell us they were getting ready and leaving with their children. At 9 a.m., we were already in bomb shelters.

Mira Telem with her dog Zuzik. (Dafna Talmon)

Aviv, my 33-year-old son who lives in a unit in our garden, came in and asked why we weren’t getting ready. I told him I didn’t want to leave the house and he said, “But you saw how panicked you were yesterday from the battlefield illumination device.”

Before October 7, I came home one day from the direction of Ma’alot, saw a tank, and burst into tears even though the border was quiet then. Since the Second Lebanon War, I’ve been traumatized by all the explosions — including those coming from the IDF.

Meanwhile, Yuval was talking to friends from Moshav Hayogev about us possibly going to them. Other friends from the center invited us to them, and then I said, “Wait, let’s call Zvika and Anat Bar Or from Moshav Livnim.”

I’ve known Zvika since the age of 14. He is from Givat Shmuel and I’m from Petah Tikva. We used to go on trips with the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hazair together. I met Yuval thanks to Zvika and Anat when I went to visit them in Eilat while the two were working together in a travel company.

To this day, Zvika is a tour guide for foreign tourists. Obviously, his work has been cut off too. They have three vacation rentals that have remained empty because of the war even though they were outside of the danger zone. I called them and they immediately replied that of course we were going there.

I preferred not to be in other people’s homes or a hotel room. A few days after we got there, we told them we wanted to pay them because the situation was continuing and the north was heating up. They resolutely refused, and are still refusing now.

Mira and Yuval Telem at their home in Mattat before October 7, 2023. (Dafna Talmon)

The evacuation

At first, I thought I had no right to think about myself. My heart was with those whose homes were destroyed. I would shower and think to myself what right do I have to shower? I thought about the hostages with every move I made. Cutting cucumbers? Hostages. Water running through my hair? Hostages.

Until my birthday on November 14, I didn’t listen to music. I wouldn’t allow myself to. Silence! If those were the hostages’ conditions in the tunnels, they would be ours too. When I heard the sentence, “We have to go back to normal,” I thought if they couldn’t, we couldn’t.

In the first few weeks, I would wake up every morning and think about them. How much food, if any, were they being given? What was Hamas doing to the women? What was Hamas doing to the children? Were the babies crying? How can a mother tell a 10-month-old baby to be quiet?

It would terrify me to the point that after an hour, I would tense my entire body and tell myself to stop. And then I would play Mahjong on my phone for an hour. To this day, every night, I whisper a prayer to myself before I go to sleep: “Tomorrow you will come back. I know you will come back tomorrow.” I don’t believe in God, but that’s my prayer.

Slowly, the meaning of being uprooted has seeped into us too, even though we got lucky with privacy.

Where do you feel it?

There are many challenges day-to-day. Aviv, my son, was called up to reserve duty and needs special food. I send him food to his outpost once a week, and because I cannot cook in the vacation unit — which has a small kitchen that is unsuited for long-term living — I drive once a week to Mattat to cook for him.

Mira Telem in Moshav Livnim, December 2023. (Dafna Talmon)

Zvika and Anat generously make their kitchen available to me, but the feeling of walking into someone’s home and using their kitchen is not easy. I like cooking at home with my dishes. I have a saucepan for rice and if I use a different one, the rice turns out different.

I have little habits that I can live without, but they make life different. In the rental, we have a toaster oven, a microwave and a little hot plate. When we’re here on Friday, and Zvika and Anat go to their grandchildren, I make fish in the toaster oven and warm up what I made at home in the microwave. I’m getting used to it.

In the early days of the evacuation, we traveled a lot so we wouldn’t go mad. We visited friends who evacuated from Shtula to Reshafim, a couple who evacuated from Mattat to Kibbutz Hefziba, and one day we went to a museum in Ein Harod, but after two weeks we had enough. I wanted to start doing something.

One of the main things in my life is my garden in Mattat, or as Yuval says, the garden is more important to me than the house. Every year, I gather seeds from the fields and the plants I grow, make cuttings, sprout seeds from wildflowers, and plant them. A few days ago, Yuval went to Mattat and sent me a “good morning” message with a photo of the garden.

How do you keep in contact with friends from Mattat who evacuated to other places?

I’m a member of Mattat’s committee. Since the war broke out, we have had meetings over WhatsApp. We’ve also had a town meeting on Zoom about security and once we had a town gathering in Kibbutz Ginosar.

Representatives of the committee recently met with National Missions Minister Orit Struk to present the complex reality of evacuees from the North. In normal times, we would have been worried about putting speed bumps in the town’s paths and developing the main sewage system because we still live with septic tanks. Normal problems.

Mira Telem’s plants in Moshav Livnim. (Dafna Talmon)

In the free time I suddenly have, I wanted to do something I haven’t done. I started making miniature homes out of materials I’ve collected. It started with buttons and stickers and then I added on natural materials.

On every walk with Zuzik, I collect seeds, stones and nice branches, and add them to my creations. I’ve also started drawing. I’ve never drawn before and don’t know how, but I sketch and enjoy it. I even took part in a poppies drawing initiative for residents of the south.

The future

It’s unclear to me what will happen in the future and we already have a mantra: We don’t plan forward. You plan only for the next half hour, at most for tomorrow. Before the war, I was supposed to start treatment for my teeth, but now I cannot commit to going every two weeks at the same time, and it’s actually quite pressing for me.

I live in a sort of floating world, not to mention my concern for my son and everyone else in danger. There are so many feelings and sensitivities, and sometimes my body cannot contain them all. Speaking of my body, I’ve developed arthritis, and I know it has a direct connection to the war and evacuation. It also happened when my parents passed away and during COVID-19.

Externally, I’m okay. I travel, work and nurture my seedbed, some of which went to Mattat, and some I offered to Livnim to make them a wildflower garden.

The residents of the moshav spoiled us at first. Every weekend we got cakes, challah and pomegranates. There are evacuees here from other places too. There is a couple from Kibbutz Yir’on and, until recently, above us was an older woman from Kibbutz Ra’am who didn’t want to go to a hotel.

Mira Telem’s miniature sculptures. (Dafna Talmon)

What do you miss most?

Home, the feeling of home, my small plot, my garden. Some of the plants died, and leaves cover everything. I miss cleaning the floor. I don’t have time to do it when I go to Mattat to cook. Every bang petrifies me, so I do everything quickly and go back to Livnim.

I cannot explain it, but every time I go to Mattat, when I get close, I’m calm for a moment, especially if there are no explosions. That’s what I want: The air, the view, the musical instruments, the friends at the outlook.

At Zvika’s and Anat’s, I was given quiet, green, flowers and privacy. How can I have the audacity to complain and say I want my home in Mattat? I was given a dream, but I want the reality I knew. I want my life back.

New work

In the last few years, most of our income came from our private business — the vacation rental, Yuval’s Cafe Roshka gallery and studio that closed down a little before COVID, and another rental unit we tailored for writers who would come and disconnect so they could write.

On October 7, all at once, we stopped earning an income. Starting October 16, we each began getting NIS 200 ($53) a day from the state.

Zvika and Anat don’t want our money, and we try to repay them in other ways because their income has also been severely harmed.

Yuval Telem at work in his smithy in Mattat. (Dafna Talmon)

Three weeks ago, I read on Facebook that the National Insurance Institute is looking for representatives for their evacuees hotline. The job includes providing responses to problems from citizens who were evacuated to a hotel on the state’s dime and moved to independent residences. The job is to bridge between the Tourism Ministry’s report and the National Insurance. People call and we try to help.

I work for the hotline in Safed, half an hour away from Livnim, and because I’m a pensioner, I work six hours a day, four days a week. I’m happy with this job beyond the income because it has given us some order.

Yuval drives me every morning to Safed, goes to work at the smithy (he makes practical creations and art), and then comes to pick me up. He recently sold some sculptures so that was a ray of light. And still, every morning, he tells me that he just wants to go home.

A few days ago, I brought him with me to Mattat, and from there I drove to Safed. I almost caused accidents twice out of anxiety from the bangs that I heard on the way. At the beginning of the war, they put two concrete barricades at the entrance to Mattat, and last week they added another two, which means the situation is escalating. Only a few days ago, Mattat was shelled, and luckily for us, the rockets only fell in open spaces.

Will we win together?

Together? So many people were evacuated from their homes, and their lives have changed. I have a friend whose neighbor said to her about the evacuees, “What are they complaining about? They were given hotels.”

Mira Telem. (Dafna Talmon)

Some people live without explosions and don’t understand what it means when you cannot go home for more than three months and when you do go for an hour, you feel like a thief.

Even if they behead Yahya Sinwar, I won’t feel like we won. That sentence, “Together we will win,” is a hollow slogan. Empty of meaning. I’m sorry for the soldiers who have to fight. I’m sorry for those who sacrificed their lives. What did they do it for? For the fact that we already lost?

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